Ric Flair will be the honorary race director for May's Sprint All-Star Race at Lowe's Motor Speedway, it was announced this week, as track officials revealed minor changes to the annual event.

Flair, a 16-time world professional wrestling champion, appeared with 2007 All-Star race winner Kevin Harvick and LMS president and general manager Marcus Smith at a news conference that introduced some new wrinkles to the Pennzoil Victory Challenge burn-out competition, which will see its field expanded from five to seven drivers.

To allay any notion that the connection between the 25th running of the All-Star race and professional wrestling might be peripheral or coincidental - at least in terms of the promotion of the event - Flair unveiled a gigantic poster formatted like a wrestling card, with the heads of Cup drivers melded with the bodies of pro wrestlers.

The poster invites fans to attend the 'All-Star Slugfest: A Night of Fractured Fenders and Shattered Dreams' where one of the featured events will be a 'Transmission Submission' match between Dale 'The People's Champ' Earnhardt Jr. and Tony 'Smoke' Stewart.

It was Stewart, you'll recall, who attracted NASCAR's ire two years ago for drawing parallels between the sanctioning body's calling of debris cautions and the staging of a professional wrestling match. In the case of the All-Star race hype, however, Smith sees the association as beneficial.

''We're all about having fun, and I think wrestling is a fun thing to watch,'' Smith said, ''It's enjoyable, and they're all about the drama and the entertainment and the show. We've got the best of both worlds.

''With the Sprint All-Star Race, you've got competition that is going to be second to none. All the drivers are going to be on the track going for the win that night. It's as much about glory as it is the purse. You don't have to worry about any points that will go against you, if you take and extra chance or two on the track.''

Harvick agreed.

''It's a fun event, and I think a little bit of excitement and light-heartedness is a big part of it,'' the #29 Pennzoil Chevrolet driver - the first announced entry in the burn-out competition - said.

A style-point element has been added to the Pennzoil Victory Challenge this year, and Flair will rate the creative aspect of the competition, along with other judges to be named later. A lucky fan in attendance at the event will be selected to ride with a Cup driver during the competition.

A separate Pennzoil consumer competition available through the website will give fans the opportunity to ride shotgun with Harvick - who finished fourth in the inaugural Pennzoil Victory Challenge last year - during the burn-out competition. Sign-ups for the online promotion run from the end of March to the beginning of May.

Though no changes to the Sprint All-Star Race format were announced Friday, Smith says some tweaks will be coming.

''We're talking about some different things that we'll be able to announce in a few weeks,'' he said, ''I think, again, it's all about making it even more exciting for the fans.

''The All-Star race has a tradition of having changes. If you remember back to the days of The Winston, we'd come out each year with a new format change. We've had great conversations and experience with the folks from Sprint, SPEED - which will televise the race live for the third straight year - and NASCAR to make the event better every year.''

by Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service



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